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California Governmental Claims

Claims against any “public entity” are specifically regulated by statute and are controlled by the provisions of the “Government Claims Act.” Failure to follow the very specific timing requirements of presenting a governmental claim against the appropriate public entity – and in following up on the claims process with the timely filing of a lawsuit in court – will prevent the injured person from bringing a case against the entity responsible for causing injuries and harm.

California government claims include: those against the State of California (although actions against the Regents of the University of California are specifically exempted from the claims process); actions against cities and counties; public schools, hospitals and transportation systems and districts; and other agencies and departments
operated by a public or governmental entity

While all cases for injury are governed by time limitations for bringing the action (referred to as a “statute of limitations”) the time limits which apply to claims against a public entity are shorter and, with few exceptions, the failure to diligently adhere to the special rules will prevent a claim from being pursued. In order to best protect an injured person’s rights when there is any suspicion that a governmental entity may have been involved in causing or contributing to an injury, consultation with an injury lawyer experienced in handling claims against government entities should be done as soon as practicable. A delay which is determined to have been unreasonable may enable the public entity to completely escape legal responsibility for its negligence or other wrongful conduct.

These claims against government entities include actions such as those for dangerous highways and other roads designed, maintained and/or controlled by the State of California (i.e., “CalTrans”) or by a local city or county; actions against CHP or local police or sheriffs’ agencies; cases for medical malpractice arising from treatment at a county hospital or hospital “district”; and many other similar situations.

Highway Safety Case Study Involving Improperly Maintained Rental Truck( click for details )( click to close )

When not properly designed and maintained, public highways create conditions which are unreasonably dangerous for all drivers – even those who are driving or riding in vehicles while following safety precautions.

Added to the potential dangers of a poorly designed and maintained highway, rented or leased trucks which have not been properly serviced and otherwise maintained can be disasters waiting to happen.  When these improperly maintained vehicles are driven at highway speeds, the risk for catastrophic and tragic results increases dramatically.

These potentially deadly forces combined to become a tragic reality on Highway 99 just north of Stockton – resulting in the catastrophic death of a 42-year-old father of an 11-year-old daughter. Tabak Law Firm represented this young girl against the State of California, as well as prosecuting this wrongful death case against a nationally-known truck rental company – to an important and successful result. The settlement which was eventually reached on behalf of the child who needlessly lost her young father not only played an important role in the gradual development of CalTrans safety projects which made highway median barriers that were far less hazardous – i.e., more safe – for the motoring public, but also forced the truck/car rental company to improve and enforce their safety standards and procedures.

The tragedy that unfolded on this particular afternoon involved the rented 10-foot “box” truck which was being used by Carl to haul scrap metal that he had bought and loaded in Modesto, intending to sell it for higher value in Sacramento; he was driving northbound on Highway 99. The young father, Mr. C, was driving his minivan southbound toward Stockton when suddenly – and without warning – a rear tire on Carl’s rented northbound truck blew out. Carl was unable to control the truck which then veered into the center median area which divided his northbound traffic from Mr. C’s southbound traffic.

A concrete dividing wall (such as that which now divides that highway as well as many others) would have prevented what happened next, but at the time this occurred only a few years ago the center median barrier consisted of overgrown oleander bushes and low, horizontal steel cables. This system had become popular in the 1950′s but over time, the bushes became very large with thick, heavy stalks; in combination with the dividing cables, the thick shrubs leaning against and on top of the 2 ½- foot high cable became a “launching ramp” for out-of-control vehicles – such as Carl’s rented (and loaded) truck.

The truck was propelled over the median – literally launched – and came down on the driver’s compartment of Mr. C’s minivan, instantly decapitating and killing him.

Stewart Tabak had successfully prosecuted other cases over the years against CalTrans and the State of California for exactly the same median barrier condition – overgrown oleander shrubs with low cables which acted as launching ramps for errant vehicles. But extensive research and inspection of records from the truck rental company revealed another important factor in this tragedy: the tires on the truck rented to Carl had severe tread separation through years of wear and abuse, as well as poor maintenance and inspection. The tire which blew out was thoroughly examined by tire experts located around the country who confirmed that routine maintenance procedures would have revealed the damaged and dangerous tire before it blew out and caused the devastating death of this young father. Following the deposition testimony of various expert witnesses regarding the dangerous condition created by the defective median barrier on the State’s freeway, as well as the poorly maintained tire and truck, the case settled for a substantial amount at a judicially supervised settlement conference.

A trust fund was created on behalf of the child to provide her with the support she deserves and to help compensate her for the devastating loss of her father.

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